What is Good Leadership? Is it a ‘Marketing Job?’

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Leadership is one of the most important ingredients of a successful business. Few aspects of business management have such a diverse literature devoted to it, which may be one reason why the subject of leadership is also one of the most contested and confusing.

Consider the following two views on leadership by two of the most notable American presidents of the 20th century:

“I learned that a great leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it,” Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, who presided over World War II, said.

Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, had almost the opposite view: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Never mind that Truman, a career politician, was one of the least favorite contemporaries of Eisenhower1, who was a soldier for most of his life.

The point is that one man’s idea of a good leader can be another man’s taboo. To many entrepreneurs and managers, the idea of getting people to do the things they don’t want to do is manipulative if not downright unethical. After all, there are only two ways to make people do things they don’t want: Coercion or sweet talk.

Both have their drawbacks. No amount of force (“you better do this—or else …”) or ego-stroking (“you’re a valued member of the team and you’re helping make the world a better place”) can bring positive long-term results.

So, what is good leadership? Let’s start with a good definition. Peter Drucker, widely regarded as the father of modern management, defined leadership as “the lifting of a man’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a man’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a man’s personality beyond its normal limitations2.”

For Drucker, personal integrity and ethics in business are indispensable to effective leadership. The other elements of good leadership, as Drucker sees them, are:

  • The ability to plan strategically
  • The ability to correctly perceive and apply the psychological principles of motivation
  • The ability to apply the principles of marketing in a business setting
  • Certain principles of leadership as they are taught in the U.S. military

At first glance, the last two components of Drucker’s model of leadership may provoke skepticism. Readers are apt to wonder: Is leadership no more than a mere marketing or sales gimmick? And what does the military, with its rigid hierarchical structure, have to teach the world of business.

But a closer examination shows that Drucker’s model of leadership is sound and sensible. Let us examine why he thought marketing is an important part of leadership.

According to William A. Cohen, president of the Institute of Leader Arts3 and the first graduate of Drucker’s executive Ph.D. program, Drucker considered good leadership to be essentially an exercise in marketing. That happens to be one of Drucker’s boldest ideas, according to Cohen. In fact, the management guru went so far as to say that leadership is “a marketing job.”

Although Drucker did not explain precisely what he meant by that phrase, he left clues in one of his books titled Management Challenges for the Twenty-First Century. In it, he reiterated an idea from his earlier work: The importance of treating employees as if they are volunteers.

This time, though, Drucker went further: He referred to employees as “partners,” going on to say that because partners couldn’t be pushed or ordered around they have to be persuaded. And because they have to be persuaded, leadership is essentially “a marketing job.”

A good leader, Drucker always believed, is someone who is concerned above all else with the future of a business or an organization. Such a leader begins with a sound business strategy that contains clear-cut objectives and goals. Then the leader make his mission believable to employees, continually communicating and promoting it to them as well as to the outside world. If that isn’t a “marketing job” I don’t know what is.

In a subsequent chapter we’ll see why some of the world’s best “mission marketeers” are in the military—and why the military model of leadership contains valuable lessons for the world of business.

1 U.S. National Park Service website: http://www.nps.gov

2 Drucker on Leadership, William A. Cohen, Jossey-Bass, 2010

3 http://www.stuffofheroes.com


Photo credit: Screen shot of Peter Drucker, Claremont Graduate University Copyright.

Copyright 2014, Dikran Iskenderian. No version of this blog may be reproduced in any form without the author’s written consent. This blog represents the author’s views only and may not necessarily represent the views of Zankou Chicken, its board, its associates and employees, managers, or customers. Please do not reproduce without permission. Thank You.

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